DANIELS: '12 Years a Slave' and the Tides of History

Lee A. Daniels | 3/19/2014, 3 p.m.
Now, the world knows something of the story of Solomon Northrup, a "free" Black American from New York who was ...
Lee A. Daniels

Indeed, its innovative cinematic techniques and concepts combined with its vicious racism to make “Birth” an enormously influential justification for the pervasive racist laws and policies Whites in the North and South had adopted and were adding to. And its portrayal of Blacks hung like a winding sheet over Hollywood films whose plots contained even minimal references to Blacks or a token number of Black actors. Its most prominent film offspring, 1939’s blockbuster, “Gone With The Wind,” powerfully reinforced for another three decades Blacks’ second-class status on and off the silver screen.

So, is it just a coincidence that “12 Years a Slave” has gained Hollywood’s most prestigious prize during the year that marks the 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone With the Wind,” and also the eve of the 100th anniversary of “Birth of A Nation?”

Or is it correct to think that the breakthrough of “12 Years a Slave” at the box office and at the Academy Awards is the result of not only a gripping story, excellent script and fine cast and director at work, but of History, too?

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is "Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America."